So it’s the second of September. School has just started for the younger two children, and is about to start for my Beloved Spouse (who teaches). Oldest Child gets back from his mission in a week, and we’re back from our summer excursions Out West. And I’m ready to get back in the harness and start being more regular about posting on this blog again — and about my not-for-hire writing in general.
Archive for the ‘Reviews of No Going Back’ Category
Over the past year, one of the most interesting places for thinking and reading about Mormon literature has been The Low-Tech World — a blog by Scott Hales, a graduate student in English and comparative literature at the University of Cincinnati. In a series of witty and insightful reviews, Hales has tackled topics ranging from Doug Thayer’s The Tree House to the works of Nephi Anderson. This past week, it was No Going Back’s turn in the barrel. I think it came out pretty well.
So. After more than a month with no particular news on the No Going Back front, this past Wednesday two new reviews were posted, both positive.
One review was from Suey at It’s All About Books, a Utah blog with a couple hundred followers. She awarded it an A- (3 stars out of 5), writing in part:
The internal conflicts [Paul] goes through are heart wrenching. He loves his church and wants to still be part of it, but this is a problem since it feels being gay is wrong. But I loved how this issue was left in a hopeful way, where he didn’t necessarily have to decide, at least at this young time in his life, to deny either part of himself…. Bottom line: In the end, I’m glad I read this one! I would like to think that this book would be a help for anyone, especially a Mormon teenager, going through this same situation.
The second review was from Alison at Alison Can Read, a blog with over 800 followers that’s not particularly directed to Mormon readers although Alison (a Minnesotan) is herself Mormon. My favorite part of her very thoughtful review was probably the following:
I loved the interaction between Paul and Chad. This story is told largely through dialogue. I’m obviously not a teenage boy, but I think Mr. Langford perfectly captured a 15-year-old boy’s voice. Reading about Paul, Chad, and their other friends hanging out whether at home or school was truly enjoyable. I loved how Paul and Chad messed with each other, trading barbs back and forth. It added bits of humor to an otherwise serious book. It also allowed them to discuss difficult issues, albeit in the uncomfortable, halting way that boys and men often do.
Yes! My attempt to depict teenage-boy awkwardness and attempts at camouflage when dealing with serious matters really does work for some readers! Alison continues:
One of my favorite things about this book was that no viewpoint was glorified. We see various members of the LDS community exhibit homophobic behavior, but others who love and accept Paul unconditionally. Paul’s friends in the Gay-Straight Alliance at school challenge him to accept being gay, yet have difficulty accepting Paul’s beliefs as a Mormon. Neither group was immune from prejudice. I also didn’t feel like I was being preached to. Considering that the characters’ religious beliefs were frequently discussed, that’s really saying something.
Alison also raises several concerns, most notably including the question of audience (adult versus teen and Mormon versus non-Mormon). While questioning whether non-Mormons might find the Mormon references puzzling, she also acknowledges the many reviews from non-Mormons who don’t seem to have an issue with this — something I have also found a bit puzzling. She concludes:
I really enjoyed No Going Back. It deals with a very difficult issue that a lot of people have to face. It doesn’t sugar-coat anything. There are no easy choices and no easy answers. There are no heroes and there are no villains. There are just a group of people trying to be good people, be true to themselves, and true to their beliefs and the aftermath when these things conflict.
Her review garnered 15 comments (not counting a rather silly one from me), including a couple from people who themselves might read the book. I’m quite tickled, to be honest.
And then there’s the half-review I referred to in my title, a quick mention of No Going Back about a month ago as part of a collective book report by Darlene Young, a friend of mine from the Mormon literature community. Her thumbnail description: “I think this was an important story and told in an interesting and effective way. I’m glad it was published. The alternating viewpoint got a little monotonous at times and could be repetitive. I’m glad this book exists.”
And so am I (glad this book exists). Otherwise, this blog might not even exist! And that would be truly tragic, for some rather dubious values of “tragic”…
Here’s a quick update, just to let people know that I haven’t died or anything…
Last Sunday, I had a guest post titled “Gay and/or Mormon: A Storyteller’s Perspective” published at Segullah (description: “Mormon women blogging about the peculiar and the treasured” — and no, I have no idea where the name came from, though it’s a great blog that you should definitely check out, even if you aren’t a Mormon woman). It got some good and positive responses — though not as many, I can’t help but notice, as several other recent posts, such as one about divorce (titled “When Eternal Marriage Isn’t”) and one about the ambiguous nature and possible value of sin (titled “To Not Have Sinned”).
I’ve had another positive review of No Going Back from a non-LDS reviewer. Heather at Buried in Books wrote in part:
I was immediately gripped by the story of Paul a sophomore in high school who knows he is gay, but also knows it goes against everything his religion teaches…. What religion? Mormon which I knew nothing about and still know only a very small part of it. But Paul is very proud of his faith and very faithful and wants to stay true to his vows to the church…. The things [Paul] reveals to [Richard, his bishop], feels comfortable telling him, feels like he has to tell him, and the way the Bishop helps him, I have to say, I’d lie like hell. Nope nothing to confess here. I’ve been very good. Never done one thing wrong. Don’t need any help at all. Especially when I’d have to face him every time I went to my best friend’s house. My sex life in my high school years was definitely my own business and I’d never have discussed it with the minister at church. It’s a very different religion than what I grew up with…. This book is not filled with religious doctrine and preachy. Not at all! I would have returned it and said I just couldn’t read it. I have my own personal religious beliefs and I’m still trying to work a few things out so anything very preachy is a big turn off to me…. Towards the last few pages, the tissue box came out. I tried to be quiet because it was 2:00 am and everyone was sleeping, except me the insomniac or reader with a great book. Mr. Langford develops the characters so well, you feel exactly what they’re feeling and at the end you can’t help but cry with Paul and the bishop as he talks to Paul from his heart. It was gut wrenching, bittersweet, you don’t want that to be the solution…. It is not the type of book I’d usually go for, but I found so much to recommend about the book. The extremely well developed characters, their growth, the various relationships and how they grow, and how faith, in something bigger than yourself, can carry you through, guide you, help you make decisions, shape you, for better or worse. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a deep faith in anything, like Paul. I hope I do someday.
I really couldn’t hope for a better response than that — particularly from a reader who doesn’t share Paul’s faith (and mine).
So last Saturday (Nov. 20), I got email message from two Mormon bloggers telling me that their reviews of No Going Back had been posted. Then today, I happened on a third review at another website that I hadn’t seen before. Below are a few excerpts from these three reviews (plus links to the full reviews), followed by some philosophizing about the value of blog reviews like these for No Going Back.
Several more blog reviews of No Going Back have shown up in the past few weeks — mostly positive, and all providing interesting insights into how people perceive and react to the book.
There’s something particularly gratifying about having your work taken seriously enough for someone to discuss it at length. It’s all the nicer when someone has positive things to say about your work. I had that pleasure this past week, when a friend pointed out a review that had been published in the latest issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.
Did you know that there are more than 50 book bloggers in Utah alone? No lie. Not to mention who-knows-how-many-more in the English speaking world in general. Which, it turns out, is the answer to the question I posed not so long ago about new things I might to do help promote No Going Back.